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Mizzou's Black Students Cope With Fear Spawned By Death Threats


Police have accused three men of making anonymous threats against black students at the University of Missouri. That's where earlier this week the president resigned after protests. Although nothing happened after these threats, many of the university's black students got scared. Adrian Florido of NPR's Code Switch team reports on how they're doing.

ADRIAN FLORIDO, BYLINE: Shortly after the threats appeared online Tuesday evening, police said there was not threat to campus, but some students there said they recognized the language in one of those posts. Some of you are all right, it said; don't go to campus tomorrow. It was almost identical to a message posted shortly before last month's community college shooting in Oregon. Black students on Mizzou's campus were scared Tuesday night. Some left their dorms to stay with friends. Senior Sean Adams offered rides to students too afraid to walk outside.

SEAN ADAMS: I mean, that was my role, and I did that all the way up until, like, 12:30. Then I came back home and just - people came over, stayed at my place, so we just slept. Oh, but then I got a call.

FLORIDO: It was a friend, and they decided they had to do something more. They reached out to the Black Culture Center on campus and asked if they could create a hub where black students could come just to hang out, study, nap and feel safe. On Wednesday afternoon, they invited me in. Students were eating donated snacks and doing homework. Some watched TV. Others were passed out on plush couches. Adams says the threats felt like a punch in the stomach.

ADAMS: But at the same time, for that to keep us from doing certain things and, like, control us emotionally, we just couldn't let - can't let that happen. I mean, a lot of people are scared, and that's what this environment is for, for reassurance, to build confidence and make sure everybody knows they're not alone.

FLORIDO: Junior Whitney Thompson agrees with that. She says fear needs a breeding ground.

WHITNEY THOMPSON: But if you surround yourself with people who aren't afraid, eventually, if you are afraid, that kind of dwindles down because it has nowhere to feed off of and grow.

FLORIDO: Fear and how they handle it is something a lot of black students have talked about in the last couple of days. Most have said although they're afraid, they feel they have to hide it. At the Black Culture Center, among other black students, they can let it out. Last night, several hundred students packed into a large meeting room. A student named Ida stood up to speak.

IDA: I don't know what to do. Like, I have a class at 9:30 in the morning. Why am I scared to walk by myself at 9:30 in the morning? I know we supposed to be strong. I know we supposed to not let them see us sweat, but why am I scared at 9 o'clock in the morning?

FLORIDO: Another student put her arm around Ida's shoulders. Grad student Reuben Faloughi led the group in a decompression exercise.

REUBEN FALOUGHI: One, two, three - inhale. All right. Randomly, throw out one adjective to describe how you feel. You don't have to raise your hand or anything - just how you feel at this very moment.


FLORIDO: Tired, stressed, they yelled. But here's what happened next. The students - hundreds of them - they poured out of the Black Culture Center and onto the street. Then they marched to the main student center in the middle of campus.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Show me what democracy looks like.

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: This is what democracy looks like.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Tell me what democracy looks like.

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: This is what democracy looks like.

FLORIDO: Inside, as other students studied nearby, they split into small groups and talked about how to deal with the stress of feeling unwelcome at their own school. Adrian Florido, NPR News, Columbia, Mo. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Adrian Florido
Adrian Florido is a national correspondent for NPR covering race and identity in America.

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